Isaiah 40: 3-5 (Advent Two 2012)
“God’s Voice Shapes Up Our Hearts to See Jesus”
Pinewood derby car racing was an annual event in my Lutheran Pioneer group when I was a boy. My brothers and I would each get that kit: a pre-made block of wood, prepped with grooves for the wheel pins. We were supplied with four wheels, axel nails, and a suggested set of directions (which most boys my age tossed directly into the trash). Each of us was determined to make the most unique, smoothest riding, sleekest car, better than the one we made last year, better than the ones it would meet at the derby. Off we went to Dad’s work bench -- a vice, a few saws, some sand paper, spray paint and our imaginations -- mine always seemed to turn out like a painted block of wood with wheels on it.
Our hearts are in a constant need of spiritual reshaping. So were the people who lived during the birth of Christ. The Lord planned to send one last prophet before Jesus was be revealed as the promised Savior. John, a cousin of Jesus, was sent into the humble settings of the Judean wilderness to call people to turn from their sinful ways and to look to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. God’s voice was shaping up their hearts to see Jesus.
Isaiah foretold this ministry of John. Isaiah’s reading appears in Advent since John’s message echoes what Isaiah had said a thousand years before. “Make straight paths for the coming of the Lord!” Those Voices of God prepare us to meet Jesus in the manger. They also shape up our hearts up to meet him in the skies when he will return in his glory on the last day.
Are you ready to see Jesus in all his glory when he will appear to all mankind? Isaiah and John are the voices God used to shape us up to do that very thing. You are not surprised by these familiar voices. Their colorful words paint a clear picture: prepare the way of the Lord -- make straight a highway -- every valley raised up -- every mountain made low -- the rough ground shall become level ... the rugged places a plain.€ They are familiar words, but they are difficult for our sinful hearts to hear. Peter asks “What kind of people ought you to be?” We turn away and know that his answer reveals perfection that we cannot fulfill. We know the straightening up that needs to take place in our hearts.
We set out each morning: children of God; blocks of spiritual wood; spiritual tools in hand, and the best of intentions! Today is the day! This is the day I am going to chop off the unwanted short temper. Today is the day I am going to smooth out the rough areas of my heart where my priorities still push God to the side. Today is the day I am going to sand off my stingy coveting. Today is the day I am going to fill in the hurt and pain with the peace of Christ. This is the day that this old sinful block of wood gets into spiritual shape.
Reality sets in. I still am short-tempered with my spouse and coworkers. I still follow through on desires which exist only to please my sinful heart. The pain of cross-bearing becomes my very excuse to give into to sin. I have allowed the idols of my heart to be highways for sin, rather than a pathway for the Lord. It seems the more we try to shape up ourselves, the more we end up looking like an unfinished block of wood and a fresh coat of hypocritical spray paint!
The tools we need are the tools that Isaiah and John provide. The hammer of God smashes our conceit. The sharp edge of God’s Word surgically removes envy and ill tempers. The handy work of God’s voice shapes us up. The shovels of his truth fill in the emptiness of pain and guilt. God’s voice speaks “Comfort, comfort, my people, speak tenderly to [them], proclaim to her that her sins have been paid for” God places us on his workbench. He putties in our empty hearts with the peace of God which goes beyond understanding. He smoothes our rough edges of hate and hurt with news that his work has accomplished our salvation. He is patient with us, not wanting us to perish.
God’s Voice shapes up our hearts to see Jesus by pointing us to Jesus! “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.”
From Isaiah’s view, God’s Voice was revealing not only the time of John, but the coming of the Messiah, Savior. His listeners were being shaped to see the blood-line of Israel as a highway that leads to the birth of Christ. From John’s Judean wilderness, his Voice was pointing to The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was prepping his hearers to see the significance of Jesus of Nazareth - crucified on Calvary. From our view we see the value of both and are prepped for the return of our Risen, Glorious Lord Jesus who “is coming with the clouds; and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (Rev. 1: 7).
Like a block of wood, a few nails, and some tools, we are all the workmanship of our Redeemer. He has neatly fashioned us as creatures in his world. His Voice speaks and it cuts away at the natural desires that exist in our hearts. As nails pierced him to the wood of the cross, we too have been crucified to sin and the ways of the world. His blood is not a thin spray paint over a few sins. It is a deep cleansing and finish coat, covering the multitude of all our guilt. Now, new creations that we are, God continues to fashion us with his tools of mercy.
Isaiah and John give us the tools of God to shape up our hearts meet Christ when his returns. In view of his mercy we have been empowered to live as Peter says: “holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” John did not hesitate to lay down specifics: the man with two jackets should be generous and share with those who had none; the tax collectors should stop their thievery and pay back what they stole; the soldiers should put a stop to their bullying and extortion (John3: 10-14).
Each is a new day to be shaped by the Voice of God. He will smooth out our temperaments and make paths for peaceful things to think and say. He will knock down our evil thoughts and replace them with nobler things to think and do. He will file down our stinginess and replace it with joy and generosity. He will comfort our troubled hearts with the news that our sins are erased from his memory on the cross. He will tend to our grief of loss with news of the Risen and Powerful Jesus who destroyed death and its power. He will present us to his Father, not a misshapen block of wood with a bad paint job, but “as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or having any blemish” (Ephesians 5: 27). God’s Voice shapes us up to see Jesus by pointing us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. With ready hearts and with his Church we sing:
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child,
Prepare a bed soft undefiled
Within my heart made clean and new
A quiet chamber kept for you. (CW 38: 13) Amen